May 29, 2017

The BJB Breakdown: Wonder Woman -- Analyzing the Fighting Technique of Diana Prince

By Schwan Humes

In October 1941, in the pages of All Star Comics #8, William Moulton Marston introduced us to a new superhero, Diana Prince, AKA Wonder Woman. This hero was created to change the narrative of female characters in comics and hopefully do the same for the young women across generations who were trying to find their place in the world, young women who wanted or may have needed someone or something to look up to and to be inspired by, which is exactly what Wonder Woman has done for over seventy years. She has served as an iconic figure who all other comic book or fantasy/action-based characters have been influenced by and compared to. And while I gladly acknowledge her creation, and the impact the character has had in the world of comic books and the real world; that isn’t the focus of this article; today we aren’t looking at Wonder Woman the icon.

Today, in anticipation of her first feature film, we are looking at Wonder Woman the fighter, examining her through a combat sports lens, where will assess and discuss her physical tools, her technical and strategic skills, her combat IQ, and her overall approach to combat, as well as examine some of her more notable battles and what that tells us about her strengths and weaknesses as a fighter. In Part 2, we will identify fighters who highlight key qualities that define the most famous and most dangerous female character in comic book history.

In the DC Universe, Wonder Woman has long been seen as a combat specialist, a virtuoso in the realm of armed and unarmed combat who is seen as the gold standard among heroes and villains. Diana is often referred to the best fighter in the universe, the perfect blend of strength, speed, agility, durability, experience, IQ, range of skills, and depth of skills. In many ways she was the prototype hero, the best of both worlds, as she combined the dynamic athleticism and power of Superman with the attention to detail, savviness, intelligence, experience, and skill of Batman.

Most heroes fall into two categories: the first are regular or enhanced individuals with training or intellect who have hard caps on the threats they can realistically handle due to their physical limitations (power, durability, strength, speed, etc.); the second set is composed of heroes gifted with great physical ability who are often completely dependent on these abilities to function with any sort of effectiveness, usually because of their lack of intangibles (skill, experience, discipline, smarts). Diana Prince wasn’t gifted with her powers through luck, or through science; she wasn’t driven to train and develop due to some tragedy. Diana’s skills and smarts were all encouraged and developed under the watchful eye of her mother and her fellow Amazonians. Her fantastic physical abilities were her birthright (regardless of the version of her origin), and were also developed and refined under the tutelage of the Amazonian society.

Diana was trained to compete in multiple ranges, using the sporting aspect of combat to help develop a comprehensive awareness that would translate to combat whether the battlefield was “Man’s World,” another planet, or on the plane of existence of the Greek Gods who interacted with and influenced the Amazonians. One aspect of this “sport” was Pankration, which was their version of mixed martial arts, a sport where a combatant had to be able to punch, kick, knee, elbow, clinch, throw, pin, and submit an opponent to truly represent themselves, their sport, and the culture at the minimum. More importantly, it provided them the tools to defend themselves regardless of the number or power of the threat.


Much like mixed martial arts, Pankration was a combat sport that combined wrestling, submissions, kickboxing, and boxing, and used various techniques from each discipline in various ranges (long, middle, pocket, clinch, and ground). Wonder Woman, being the best of the Amazons, was skilled in each area, and often leaned on her diversity of skills to overcome her opponents as much or more than she leaned on her actual physical capabilities. At heart, Wonder Woman is an aggressive counter puncher, one who can engage in the pocket, mid-range, and long distance; she often seeks to draw an opponent’s attack, defend, then counter.

Image: DC Comics - Supergirl #17
Though she has the speed and agility to dodge more times than not, she will refer to blocks or parries, whether they be with her shield or her bracelets, which will stop an offensive maneuver and create an opening she can exploit.


The techniques and targets she makes use of depend largely on the intent of her opponent and his or her physical skill sets; though Diana has a general approach (aggressive counter puncher), the pace, place, and tools used adjust from opponent to opponent. In some cases she will seek to block then get ahold of her opponent, be it with her lasso or her hands.

Image: DC Comics - Supergirl #17
When an opponent has ranged abilities and a certain level of speed, Diana will seek to control and submit her (such as when she faced Supergirl), or as shown later, she will let her opponent initiate before countering with a reactive takedown to finish the fight. Instead of making it a battle of speed and agility, Diana instead makes it a matter of diversity and control, outsmarting then out-fighting the Kryptonian.


Image: DC Comics - Wonder Woman #41
Another example of the combat versatility and combat IQ of Wonder Woman is in her fight with Power Girl; once again Diana was put on the defensive by a superior and aggressive Kryptonian.


Unlike the fight with Supergirl, however, this Kryptonian is a bit more measured and insistent on taking the fight to Diana at mid/pocket range, trying to make it an ugly affair of toughness, power, and aggression.


Once again Wonder Woman chooses to change the range and the approach, slipping the punches of Power Girl and countering with body shots, which put her into clinch range, where she could punish her opponent and restrain her until she comes to her senses.


Image: DC Comics - Injustice: Gods Among Us #8
The final example is one that highlights the durability, savagery, grace, and versatility possessed by Wonder Woman -- a fight against the single most powerful physical threat in the DC Universe, the one, the only, Superman.

In this battle, Diana has to maneuver and manipulate multiple ranges in combat to compete with Superman.

Unlike previous battles, where she was able to gain the advantage by going to one range and dominating, the power, experience, and durability of Superman demands she hold nothing back in regards to techniques used or targets attacked.

Image: DC Comics - Injustice: Gods Among Us #8
Diana attacks range from rights and lefts, to roundhouse kicks to the head, to stomps to the knee, throws, arm locks, and elbow strikes to the joints.

All of these techniques and strategies are rooted in the art/sport of Pankration, meaning that they are all within Diana’s toolbox to use at any time.

But rarely is she faced with an opponent that demands both her full array of skills and the full impact of her warrior nature.


Image: DC Comics - Injustice: Gods Among Us #8

In facing Superman, Diana was forced to unbalance with a variety of different attacks; more importantly, she was forced to use techniques to incapacitate, if not severely damage, an opponent, due in part to the prowess of the Kryptonian.

Instead of staying on the defensive and looking for opportunities to tie up and control him, Diana took the initiative, forcing him to respond, then making him pay, ignoring opportunities to submit or control him and focusing on disabling.

In the fight game, fighters often will fight down to the level of their opposition, but any true fighter, any great fighter, rises to the occasion when met with a challenge that demands the best of them. And while Wonder Woman is many things -- protector, nurturer, educator, student, healer, and intellect -- the one thing you can never forget is that she is a warrior who will fight without any mercy and will fight without asking for any quarter.

Wonder Woman may be a fictitious character, but to many people, she is a very real example of the strength, power, intelligence, bravery, savagery, and spirit that resides in every woman, the same way so many male heroes (Batman or Superman) have represented that for so many men in the world. Today we brought the fantastical fighting abilities and techniques into the very real world of combat sports and combat analysis, to show us what makes her the foremost combat expert in the DC Universe. In Part two we will attempt to bring the incredibly and exceptionally unique and diverse characteristics of Diana Prince into the real world, to emphasize how many of the things she does in the comics can be paralleled in what we have seen in the past and present of combat sports.

Wonder Woman is set to officially open in theaters around the globe on June 2, 2017, with Gal Gadot starring in the titular role opposite Chris Pine as Steve Trevor.

The movie follows Diana Prince, an Amazonian Princess and trained warrior. When she rescues an American pilot (Pine), she leaves her island to fight alongside him in World War I, where Diana discovers her true powers.


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